Biggest Question Mark for Every NFL Team

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIOctober 24, 2012

Biggest Question Mark for Every NFL Team

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    Every NFL team has at least one pressing issue as the NFL moves into Week 8 of the 2012 season. No team is perfect, no matter how it might seem on any given Sunday.

    For some it's a matter of finding the right quarterback. For others its chemistry and experience.

    Then for a few it's a complete shut down of an entire aspect of a team.

    No matter what you think, your team suffers from at least one of these burning questions.

    Take a look at the biggest questions concerning every NFL team as we approach the halfway point of the season.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Biggest question: Are the Arizona Cardinals legitimate contenders?

    After getting off to a hot 4-0 start, the Cardinals have lost four consecutive games. They’ve continued to play tough defense, especially in the passing game, but have begun to slip in recent weeks with containing opposing running backs.

    If the wheels come off the defense, the wheels of the whole train are coming off in the desert.

    Also, ever since Kurt Warner retired, the Cards have been searching for a quarterback. They made a big move in acquiring the relatively unproven Kevin Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles. If not for an injury Kolb would have been sitting behind John Skelton to begin the 2012 season.

    As we enter Week 8, Kolb is hurt now—proving he is still not durable enough to last a full NFL season—and Skelton is back behind center.

    Neither seem to be what the Cardinals need in order to take their team to the level of success it saw with Warner at the helm.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Biggest question: Are the Atlanta Falcons ready to take the next step?

    Have the undefeated Falcons improved since last season’s disappointing 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants?

    Under Mike Smith and Matt Ryan, the Falcons have put up a goose egg in the playoffs in three appearances.

    What has changed since last year? Not very much.

    The Falcons 6-0 record has come against teams with a combined record of 13-24. It hasn’t come easy, either, at times for these Falcons.

    Despite having two very competent and complimentary running backs, the Falcons have managed just 86.5 yards per game on the ground in 2012. On the flip side, they’re near the bottom of the league (28th) in rushing yards surrendered with 143.8 allowed per game.

    If it comes down to it, can the Falcons defeat the elite NFC teams in the playoffs and earn their first playoff win under Smith? Or will their postseason struggles continue this season?

Baltimore Ravens

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    Biggest question: Is Joe Flacco elite?

    It’s a question that has been asked in previous seasons and isn’t going to go away until Flacco can prove he can win big games on the road.

    He’s currently posting a 106.6 QB rating at home and a remarkably worse 55.9 rating on the road.

    The Ravens offense just seems to stall and sputter on the road despite weapons aplenty and a new high-tempo scheme from Cam Cameron.

    Now you factor in the decline of the team’s defense and devastating season-ending injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb and things in Baltimore begin to grow murky.

    Can Flacco lead his team to the Super Bowl if he has to go through the Texans or Patriots on the road?

Buffalo Bills

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    Biggest question: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a limited QB?

    Fitzpatrick, who was given a sizeable contract after a good quick-start to the 2011 season, has been unimpressive throwing the ball downfield in 2012.

    Is he just a dink-and-dunker that relies on a running game and short passing to move the football? It’s beginning to look more and more like that the more action he sees.

    On passes 21 yards or deeper, the Bills’ quarterback is completing just 23.5 percent of those attempts and just an 11 percent mark on passes deeper than 30 yards.

    When he’s thrown between 30 and 40 yards, he’s earned himself a 5.2 passer rating while completing just one out of eight attempts in that category.

    Said simply: Can Ryan Fitzpatrick go downfield effectively and win games for his team? 

Carolina Panthers

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    Biggest question: What exactly is the game plan on offense?

    Last season the Carolina Panthers had a combined assault of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. This season, those guys are ghosts on offense on the stat sheet.

    Williams and Stewart combined for 1,597 yards a season ago on the ground but have only 319 combined through seven weeks in 2012.

    It could be indicative of a sophomore slump by offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski.

    Under Chud, the 2007 Cleveland Browns broke out, finishing 10-6, and sported a Top 10 offense in most statistical categories. In 2011, Carolina saw much of the same success as his new system took the league by storm.

    Are we seeing a second drop-off in this coordinator’s system or a lack of execution by the players?



Chicago Bears

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    Biggest question: Can the Chicago Bears offensive line protect Jay Cutler?

    Jay Cutler has been sacked 19 times through the first seven weeks of the 2012 season. That’s fourth most in the NFL, behind Kevin Kolb (27), Aaron Rodgers (26) and Sam Bradford (21).

    That’s alarming considering the recent rib injury that Cutler sustained against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football this past week.

    In 2011, the Bears started 7-3 until Cutler was knocked out for the season. Caleb Hanie, the replacement QB who filled in for Cutler during the team’s 2010-11 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, lost four consecutive games as the team’s starter.

    That, along with losing Matt Forte for the season, effectively killed their playoff hopes.

    The team should feel better about having Jason Campbell and not Hanie waiting the wings, but how much better is the question.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Biggest question: Who's to blame for Andy Dalton's sophomore slump?

    Was it unrealistic expectations after Dalton’s impressive rookie season that has led to calls that the second-year quarterback is in a “sophomore slump?”

    Whatever it is, Dalton is seemingly not the same poised and confident quarterback that he was under pressure as a rookie in 2011. Where he excelled most, he’s struggling badly in his second season as a pro.

    Last year he led four fourth-quarter comebacks. This year, he’s folded nearly every time he’s had the opportunity and given the game away.

    According to ESPN Stats, he’s already thrown five interceptions in 72 attempts when being pressured by five or more rushers. Last season he threw only two with a larger sample size of 162 attempts.

Cleveland Browns

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    Biggest question: Who’ll stop the run?

    Despite what may seem to be endless question marks around the Cleveland Browns franchise, the most pressing seems to be an inability, either talent-wise or coaching-wise, to stop opposing running backs.

    Sure, the pass defense also suffered, but we’ll chalk that up mostly as a result of Joe Haden’s four-game suspension.

    Is there a worse run-stopping team in the NFL after Indianapolis was able to run right through the Browns in Week 7?

    The unit was without Ahtyba Rubin last week and continues to miss Phil Taylor, but they weren’t any good at stopping the run even with those two in the game in 2011.

    It’s a combination of poor play-recognition and game-planning with a little bit of underwhelming depth and personnel mixed in.

    Someone needs to step up in the locker-room and coaching staff and help this team establish the line-of-scrimmage on both sides of the ball or their fortunes will never change.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Biggest question: Can the Dallas Cowboys close games with Tony Romo at quarterback?

    At times, Tony Romo can be the best thing for the Cowboys. He’s leading an offensive attack with some of the best weapons in football and all is well.

    Then, there comes the times of adversity. He just doesn’t seem have the “it” factor that teams who consistently go deep in the playoffs have at the quarterback position.

    It isn’t a question of physical ability. Maybe its determination and love of the game, but maybe it’s in his psyche. Maybe he’s been beaten down so many times that he just can’t escape defeat.

    The pressure is certainly high as championship talks never die in Dallas under outspoken owner Jerry Jones.

    Can he and will Romo be up to the challenge when the time comes?

Denver Broncos

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    Biggest question: Can the Denver Broncos play a full four-quarters?

    Whether it’s offensively or defensively, there’s a half in every game in which a Broncos’ unit fails to show up.

    It hasn’t hurt the Broncos yet because they’re sitting nicely at .500 in a weak AFC West division. However, we’ve seen this type of thing before in that division. There’s no guarantee the San Diego Chargers don’t go on a mid-late season tear and steal the division if Denver doesn’t distance itself from the pack.

    That’s why the team needs to be more consistent and put together four full quarters of play. If they come out and play to their potential, they can certainly play or beat the best teams in the league.

Detroit Lions

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    Biggest question: What is wrong with Detroit Lions star QB Matthew Stafford?

    There are a multitude of factors behind the decline in the 2012 Detroit Lions. Part of it is a tough schedule. It’s not like they’re getting blown out, either.

    But competing and winning football games, especially with the caliber of offense the Lions are capable of fielding, are entirely different things.

    Last season, Stafford exploded for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. Though six games in 2012, he’s thrown just five touchdowns.

    His confidence is clearly rattled by drops, offensive line struggles and a diminishing ability to throw with pressure in his face. That’s all causing a lot of first-half struggles and an inability for Stafford and the Lions’ offense to come back from when forced to pass in the second half.

Green Bay Packers

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    Biggest question: Do the Green Bay Packers even need Greg Jennings?

    After a slow start to the 2012 season, Aaron Rodgers has erupted over the past two weeks with 680 yards passing and nine touchdowns over that span.

    At first, the offense seemed to slow in the absence of the injured Jennings. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case as Rodgers has begun to utilize Randall Cobb and James Jones more in his absence.

    There’s no denying the caliber of player Greg Jennings is. That isn’t a part of this discussion. Are the Packers that much better with him on the field, though?

    However, Jennings is a free agent at the end of the season and is looking for a big salary. He may have to find that elsewhere if he proves to be replaceable by the other receivers on the Pack’s depth chart.

Houston Texans

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    Biggest question: Can the Houston Texans go blow-for-blow with high-powered offenses of NFC?

    Let’s assume the Texans make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Will we see a repeat of their Week 6 slaughter at the hands of the Green Bay Packers?

    Or, do they have the offensive firepower to compete in a shootout with the likes of the New York Giants and Packers?

    That’s a very important question moving forward. Is Houston better suited to play teams similar to them (San Francisco and Chicago come to mind), in close, hard-fought battles?

    Week 14’s Monday night showdown against the New England Patriots will be a very telling sign, defensively, of where this team stands.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Biggest question: Will Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney play together?

    The Indianapolis Colts are right about in the middle of the NFL in sacks with 16 through their first six games. How much better could that number be if their primary defensive end/outsider linebacker duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were both healthy?

    Last week, with Freeney but not Mathis in the lineup, the Colts failed to sack rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden one time and barely escaped with a victory.

    They’ll need both of these elite pass rushers healthy if they plan on helping out a relatively thin secondary against some of the better offensive teams they have on their schedule.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Biggest question: Is Blaine Gabbert to blame for struggles of Jacksonville’s offense?

    Things started out poorly for the Jags in 2012 due to a lengthy preseason holdout by standout running back Maurice Jones-Drew. They got even worse when their No. 5 overall draft pick Justin Blackmon was arrested for DUI on July 24, just before the team’s training camp was set to begin.

    It hasn’t gotten much better for the team since.

    Blaine Gabbert has struggled to progress in his sophomore season thanks to an inability to sense pressure and go through his progressions adequately. He gets “shell-shocked” by mistakes and pressure and becomes a new player altogether at times.

    Gabbert can’t catch the passes for his receivers, or block the rush that’s coming at him very quickly, but he needs to adapt, get rid of the ball faster and progress through his receiving options at NFL speed if he or the Jags are to have any success.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Biggest question: Who is the starting quarterback of the future in Kansas City? In two weeks from now?

    Matt Cassel has been underwhelming at best under the offensive tutelage of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Daboll has struggled everywhere he’s gone and it’s not surprising he’s brought those issues to Kansas City with him.

    Cassel looked like he had franchise quarterback potential but all of that seems to be a distant memory. Last season injuries to key players, and Cassel himself, were scapegoats for a bad season in KC.

    This year, head coach Romeo Crennel has turned to Brady Quinn in Week 7 as his starting quarterback. Quinn started for an injured Cassel during the team’s Week 5 matchup against Tampa Bay.

    He played poorly but apparently good enough to give himself another shot as the team comes off its Week 6 bye.

Miami Dolphins

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    Biggest question: Do the Miami Dolphins have a true No. 1 wide receiver?

    Some were skeptical after the Dolphins picked converted wide receiver Ryan Tannehill as the team’s franchise quarterback with its No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Question marks remained about the team’s decision to go with oft-injured Reggie Bush at the running back position.

    Then they traded Brandon Marshall.

    A rookie quarterback plus a thin cupboard of wide receivers is not a good starting combination.

    However, despite some struggles by his receivers, Tannehill has found a way to involve all of them significantly. Even though Brian Hartline, who emerged as the No. 1 target, was shut out against the St. Louis Rams, he still played relatively mistake-free football and found a way to guide his team to victory.

    Do they have a number one receiver? Do they need one?

Minnesota Vikings

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    Biggest question: Are the Minnesota Vikings a running team by necessity or preference?

    After playing nearly mistake free-football through his first four starts, quarterback Christian Ponder has begun to get a little careless with the football. He’s thrown two interceptions in each of the past three games.

    He’s simply trying to do too much.

    While he does have some weapons in Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson, the second-year quarterback should stick to the plan by playing off the running ability of Adrian Peterson and utilizing his excellent tight end. Kyle Rudolph from Notre Dame has been an excellent security blanket for the young QB this season.

    Rudolph had zero catches last week in the team’s win over the Arizona Cardinals. Not many of his teammates recorded a reception, for that matter, as Ponder went 8-of-17 for 58 yards passing.

New England Patriots

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    Biggest question: Why is the New England Patriots’ secondary so terrible?

    In the NBA, getting dunked on-top of is called being “posterized.” When an NFL team plays the New England Patriots, that term applies to a quarterback and his receivers going to work on their secondary.

    The Pats ranked 25th in the NFL in total defense, thanks to the poor

    Is it because they’re too focused on stopping the run or because they’re lacking instinctive safeties that can shut down the seams and provide over-the-top support for their corners?

    Whatever it is, it’s getting bad fast. Mark Sanchez, who’s looked awful this season, played like an all-pro against the Pats in Week 7.

New Orleans Saints

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    Biggest question: Did the bounty scandal demoralize the New Orleans Saints defense?

    Coaching changes, suspensions and personnel changes are all tangible reasons for the complete and utter decline in defensive performance by the New Orleans Saints defense.

    But what about the emotional and psychological blow in the locker room?

    The Saints are 27th in total defense and that’s only due to their offense’s ability to score points and sustain drives. Without a high-powered Drew Brees-led offense, this defense would be last in every statistical category.

    Put it this way, if you combined the Saints D and the Arizona Cardinals offense, they’d be the worst team in the history of the NFL.

New York Giants

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    Biggest question: Can Eli Manning and the New York Giants continue to rely on the big play?

    How many times can Eli Manning find Hakeem Nicks of Victor Cruz for a 70-plus yard touchdown with the game on the line?

    Are teams stubborn enough that they refuse to play prevent against a team that consistently takes deep shots in the fourth quarter and wins games? Or are they just unable to keep up with Manning and his receivers?

    Whatever it is, the Giants can’t keep it up forever. They’re built differently than they have been in the past, though. Sure, Manning and the offense have the ability to light up the scoreboard and win these close games.

    But they didn’t always have to rely on it happening. Not every team is as bad in the secondary as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.

New York Jets

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    Biggest question: Why is Tim Tebow on the New York Jets roster?

    Injuries are aplenty in New York as the beat-up Jets have tried to salvage their season. At times, Mark Sanchez has looked like the worst quarterback in the NFL. At others, he’s been serviceable and deserving of a momentary pass.

    That brings us to Tim Tebow, the highly polarizing and dynamic mobile quarterback from Florida.

    What value is being added to the Jets by holding onto a media-magnet that isn’t being given any resemblance of a hearty amount of offensive plays?

    Sanchez isn’t very good, so why not play more Tebow into the game plan? If not, why bring him in due to the level of distraction he carries with him?

Oakland Raiders

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    Biggest question: What’s happened to Darren McFadden?

    Blame the scheme, blame the blocking, and blame whoever you feel least attached to. The Oakland Raiders are not getting Darren McFadden involved enough or he’s just not performing to his potential.

    At 3.1 yards per carry after six games, it’s probably a little of everything. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer is throwing more than any Raiders’ quarterback in recent memory while the immense talents of McFadden are squandered.

    Does the absence of Michael Bush have anything to do with it? Bush was an excellent change of pace and compliment to Run DMC in season’s past and is continuing to excel in Chicago.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Biggest question: Are the Philadelphia Eagles better off without Michael Vick at quarterback?

    Michael Vick has given up a plethora of turnovers through six games. He’s played well, at times, but hasn’t been able to put together consistent and mistake-free football.

    The team’s Week 4 win over the New York Giants is an exception to that.

    The question then becomes: Is Vick a detriment to his team while on the field? That very well may be the case. Between fumbling, errant passes and throwing to opposing secondaries,

    Vick hasn’t looked very sharp at all and could be in danger of losing his job if he doesn’t clean up his play.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Biggest question: Is the “Steel Curtain” dissolving?

    The once impenetrable Pittsburgh Steelers defense has seen injuries and age eat away at its core. Its main struggles have come from a suddenly not-so dominant rush defense and a lacking ability in forcing turnovers.

    Credit that to Troy Polamalu standing on the sidelines and a diminished pass rush.

    Is it just injuries or is something else happening in the steel city that may shift the power structure of the AFC North?

    We’ll find out soon as the Steelers will face the red-hot offense of the Washington Redskins and then the Baltimore Ravens twice in the next month.

St. Louis Rams

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    Biggest question: Can St. Louis’s offensive line protect Sam Bradford?

    Bradford is running around for his life in the backfield and being chased around as much as anyone in the league. Anyone besides who is lined up behind the Arizona Cardinals’ front-five.

    He’s currently third in the NFL in sacks having been dropped 21 times by opposing defenses.

    Normally, this would lead to catastrophe in St. Louis. This season, though, has brought a reinvigorated defense under new head coach Jeff Fischer.

    If the offense can get it together by keeping Bradford upright, this team has a chance to make some noise in the suddenly competitive NFC West.

San Diego Chargers

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    Biggest question: Can Ryan Matthews be trusted carrying the football?

    The San Diego Chargers drafted Ryan Matthews in the first round as the next LaDanian Tomlinson for the franchise.

    It hasn’t exactly worked out that way, despite Matthews flashing unlimited potential.

    In 2011, the running back broke the century mark but hasn’t gotten off to a great start this season due to injuries and reliability concerns after fumbling against the Atlanta Falcons.

    He fumbled just five times in all of 2011 and lost only two of them.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Biggest question: Are the San Francisco 49ers built for comebacks?

    Why does a 10-point deficit seem so insurmountable that it causes a team like the 49ers to become discombobulated and uncharacteristic in its game plan and execution?

    Quarterback Alex Smith isn’t a gunslinger who is going to win football games on his own. He doesn’t have the accuracy or decision-making ability that’s necessary to do that. He’s best suited to play within the run-oriented system of the 49ers while making plays with his arm that work off of play-action.

    If he’s asked to do too much, Smith caves with the weight of that responsibility and reverts back to the turnover machine he was prior to Jim Harbaugh’s tenure in the Bay Area.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Biggest question: Can the Seahawks win in NFC West?

    The Seattle Seahawks fell to 0-3 in NFC West competition after Thursday night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It exposes another flaw in the Seahawks, as the team is only 1-3 on the road in 2012.

    Tough defenses have been able to interrupt Russell Wilson’s short-passing game and stifle the team’s ability to move the football with Marshawn Lynch in the process.

    In NFC West games, Wilson has thrown five interceptions, one touchdown, and completed just 54 percent of his passes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Biggest question: Where’s the pass rush in Tampa Bay?

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost defensive end Adrian Clayborne for the rest of the season after he tore a ligament in his knee during the team’s Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

    Last week, the team sat back in coverage and ineffectively rushed three and four while Drew Brees diced their Swiss cheese secondary to pieces.

    On the season, the Bucs rank third-to-last in the sack department. They’ve recorded a whopping eight so far through the first six games of the 2012 season.

Tennessee Titans

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    Biggest question: Is running back Chris Johnson back?

    Buffalo is certainly not a good defensive team, especially against the run. But, it’s hard to deny the improvement in Johnson’s step on the field over the past two weeks as he’s recorded two-consecutive good performances in a row.

    Is it a better offensive command by veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck that’s sparked Johnson or is it a lucky streak that will continue against a suspect Indianapolis Colts defense this week?

    Whatever is going on in Tennessee, Johnson is a huge part of it. If he’s back, they instantly become a better football team. Two wins in a row and two good games by Johnson—that’s no coincidence.

Washington Redskins

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    Biggest question: Is there a worse unit than the Washington Redskins’ secondary?

    As a whole, the New Orleans Saints defense may be the worst in the NFL. But is there a position-specific unit that is as poor as the Redskins’ secondary?

    The team is allowing 328.4 yards per game through the air. That’s good enough for dead last in the NFL.

    Pass rushers Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker were lost for the season in Week 2 and the pass rush has certainly been minimal (13 on the season). Other teams have trouble with their pass rush and don’t get gouged as badly as the Skins do.

    It’s certainly disconcerting for rookie standout Robert Griffin III to have such a fantastic start to his career be derailed by a complete lack of discipline and performance by his defense’s secondary.


    Mike Hoag Jr. covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for Bleacher Report and is the Browns Gameday Correspondent for the site.